The picture here (circa 1984) is of my 2nd grade teacher, Miss Bonner, and my amazing friend, Leslie, who lived across the street from me.
I don’t think teaching has ever been more difficult than it is right now. In the last few months I’ve read article after article and post after post about the strangeness of teaching on zoom. It’s not ideal when students don’t turn cameras on, or when you can’t walk through the room, pausing and smiling, waiting for someone to answer a question or take part in a discussion.
At the beginning of this school year, I was overjoyed to see my youngest daughter running wildly around the house searching for “something yellow” to take to her zoom meeting. Her teacher was getting the students moving, and I’m sure it was telling to see what yellow item each student brought to show. Perhaps it isn’t the most academic of endeavors, but in my opinion, when you are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, finding creative ways to run your classroom can make an enormous difference.
When I was in 2nd grade, Miss Bonner had what I remember as a wooden rocking chair. She would turn around, knock on the chair, and when she turned back around, she was transformed. Perhaps she had a few characters, or perhaps she was a different person each time, I can’t remember exactly, but what I do remember is being completely astounded at every new person sitting in that chair in my classroom.
This brought us joy. This made us giggle. This made us see the world differently — as somewhere where we could let go of ourselves a little, as somewhere where absolutely anything was possible.
How lucky were we to have a teacher who saw the value in creativity? How lucky were we to have this adventure to partake in? Very, very lucky! As my poetry professor, Charles Harper Webb said after reading this poem: “Cheers to the Miss Bonners of the world!”
This poem first appeared in the online publication Mothers Always Write, and then later, in my book, At the Table of the Unknown (Moon Tide Press, 2019)
Miss Bonner turns away from us,
her eyes close, her blonde becomes a curtain.
We lean forward from the floor,
legs criss-crossed and wonder-eyed.
She raps three times, deliberately
on the worn wood-backed rolling chair.
Her audience is more and more still, quieter
with each thump; we can hear the breath
of whoever is next to us, the comforting
rustle of her long skirt as she turns back
around. We know she will be transformed.
There is magic in her chair, in her hand
that knocks a new personality into her body.
One day she is an old woman, with voice
folded over at the edges, with slow hands,
her invisible cane in arthritic fingers,
her glistening eyes get wider and wiser.
Another day she is seven, just like us, bright-
cheeked and boisterous, jumping breathless
into the classroom air, clapping.
Later, she will be a long-legged pirate, pursuing
all the treasures of the world, enraptured,
clutching some hand-drawn, weather-edged map.
We won’t ask where she got it, why she travels,
in these ten minutes a day, how her body
becomes so many, arriving like rainbows or recess.
She must still be there with us while we make
coffees, assemble lunches, wonder what happened?
Today I sit at the dining table, my hand curled
into itself. I find the wood three times. Worry flies
from fingers. The old woman winks, the seven-year-old
giggles, the pirate raises his sword into the sparkling sun—